Freshmen start fast as VU women top Lehigh in opener

Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 4:55pm

The 2009-10 season did not start well for two starters on the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team.

Junior Jessica Mooney played seven first-half minutes and senior Merideth Marsh logged just six. Both were relegated to the bench after a pair of early fouls, and neither scored before intermission.

The result was a rotating lineup, which at times included four reserves (including three freshmen) along with junior Jence Rhoads. Even so, the 20th-ranked Commodores shot 62 percent from the field in the first half (56 percent for the game) and defeated Lehigh 90-54 at Memorial Gymnasium on Sunday.

“To have to go to the bench that early in the first game, and to see us run the offense and it actually looked like it’s supposed to look – I was very pleased with that,” coach Melanie Balcomb said.

Freshmen Tiffany Clarke, Gabby Smith and Elan Brown all got their respective college careers rolling in short order.

The three were on the floor together for the first time 6:18 after the opening tip after Marsh was whistled for her second foul. At that point, Mooney already was on the bench with two of her own and VU led by just three points, 13-10.

Less than a minute later, Clarke made a layup that started a 13-2 run. Lehigh got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

“I wasn’t nervous because they weren’t nervous,” Balcomb said. “… I didn’t feel like any of those three freshmen had been nervous in any of the two exhibition games so I was very confident putting them in, and I knew I could put them in quickly.

“I love what they’re giving us. It’s a calm confidence with a lot of energy.”

Rhoads capped the run with three straight baskets. She finished with eight points and a career-high 10 assists.

Clarke eventually scored a team-high 14 points despite a finger fracture on her left hand sustained last week in practice.. Lauren Lueders added 13 off the bench, and starter Hannah Tuomi had 12.

Smith and Brown finished with nine and seven, respectively.

“I had a lot fun,” Clarke said. “My first college game … our team played well. We played how we’re supposed to play and came out with a win.”

Marsh finally made her first basket, a 3-point shot, with 15:10 to play in the second half and finished with seven points in 19 minutes. Mooney ultimately played 18 minutes and made just one free throw, which came with 7:42 remaining, and one field goal.

“(The freshmen) have been working hard in practice and they’ve earned it in practice,” Rhoads said. “I knew that they would be ready to play.”